Frequently Asked Questions
Preparing for Law School
Why should I go to law school?
How should I decide if law school is right for me?
- You should go to law school if you want to become a lawyer or enter another profession in the legal field, such as an administrator, teacher/professor, business manager, advocate, judge, or politician. It is not necessary at the onset to know what kind of law you want to practice or even that you want to practice law.
- Spend some time talking to lawyers that you might meet through your own networks, through contacts made at internships or volunteer positions, or through those met through the Pre-Law Society and Mock Trial team. Ask them about what they do, and how they got to their positions.
- Give some serious thought to what it is that you want to do and how much time and energy you are willing to spend to get there. Know that a law degree might not be necessary to do what you want to do. Spend some time discovering options you might pursue without a law degree.
- Finally, be aware that there are significant career options available to law school graduates. For example, you might choose to work in advocacy, for the government, in corporate law, or in law firm; the starting salaries and fringe benefits available in each of these areas can vary considerably.
What factors are considered in admission to law school?
- Other factors to take into consideration include cost. Law school is an expensive endeavor, and the need to pay back student loans may impact your career choices. Another consideration involves competition. Admission to law school is highly competitive, as is acceptance to law review, and for clerkships post-graduation. All of these factors can not only impact your career choices, but also the options available to you upon graduation.
- The most essential qualifications for acceptance to law school are a strong undergraduate grade point average and competitive Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. Law schools also take into account course of study and its difficulty and depth; improvement in grades and grade distribution; quality of the college attended; college curricular and extracurricular activities; letters of recommendation; interview and/or written essay; work experience (if applicable); state of residency; motivation and reasons for deciding to study law.
What extracurricular activities should I pursue?
- While a higher GPA and LSAT test score increase your chances to get in to any specific law school, the admission committees will not select individuals based on the numbers alone. For every school, the admissions process comes down to a choice among applicants with similar LSAT scores and GPAs. At that point, law schools will select from among that pool those applicants who have submitted engaging personal essays, resumes that indicate leadership potential, and recommendations that attest to the applicants capabilities. The point then is to ensure that your applications are focused, cohesive, and indicate an ability to thrive at the school to which you are applying. In crafting your application, make sure you highlight any mitigating circumstances that would either explain lower grades, or give credence to your particular situation. In doing so, you are effectively letting each school know why they should accept you.
- You will not gain special recognition merely by having your name associated with the most activities, but instead by active participation that demonstrates maturity, motivation, and leadership in that activity. Activities in which you have had a strong leadership role and have demonstrated the ability to work well with others can be positive factors in the law school admissions process. It is the extent of your involvement that matters, and the activity need not be law-related.
How can I learn about the study and practice of law?
- However, you ought to seek out and participate in law-related activities, as your involvement indicates that your desire to study law is well-informed, as well as provides you with an opportunity to learn more about your intended profession.
- You can learn about the legal profession by reading, talking with law students and lawyers, visiting law schools, and investigating career alternatives. A list of pre-law readings is available at the Fordham Library. The list of readings helps acquaint law school candidates with many of the issues that challenge both legal education and, more broadly, the legal profession. The Office of Career Planning and Placement can provide valuable assistance and information regarding law as a career choice. The Office also coordinates the Internship Program for juniors which provides an opportunity to explore career alternatives.
[back to top]
- In addition, Ms. Burke periodically sponsors seminars and discussions during the academic year which focus on legal education and the legal profession. This information is updated regularly on the pre-law bulletin board outside the pre-law advisors office.
What is a good “pre-law” course of study?
What major should I choose?
- There is no pre-law major or specific pre-law curriculum. In preparation for law school, you should seek to develop effectiveness in the use and comprehension of language, in-depth understanding of human institutions and values, and creative power in thinking.
- You may choose to major in subjects that are considered to be traditional preparation for law school, such as history, English, philosophy, political science, or economics, or you may focus your undergraduate studies in areas as diverse as art, music, science, mathematics, or computer science. Whatever major you select, you are encouraged to pursue an area ofstudy that interests and challenges you, while taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research and writing skills. Taking a broad range of difficult courses from demanding instructors is excellent preparation for legal education. What counts is not which major you select, but rather how well you perform in your chosen field of study.
What courses should I take?
- The Juris Doctor is a generalist’s degree. The admission offices and especially the law professors that make the decisions on the admission committees are not particularly interested in your major(s). They are interested in how well you did something you chose to do well, so study a subject that interests you. Lawyers come from all academic and professional backgrounds, including science, education, nursing, and management.
- Do not select courses because you believe they might “be good for law school.” Instead, seek excellence in instruction and enjoyment in the subject matter. Select courses that interest you, challenge you, require research and require you to express ideas in writing. Remember, your objective is to develop fundamental capacities for comprehension and expression in words, critical understanding of human institutions and values with which the law deals, and creative power in thinking.
What about undergraduate law courses?
- Law schools are interested in your ability to do rigorous analytical research, to write well, to present, and to persuade. Take courses that will develop these skills. If you have done well in a class, consider taking more than one course with that professor; this will help them get to know your work and can strengthen a recommendation. Consider electives in Arts and Sciences if they are not part of your course of studies. Conversely, you might also consider taking electives in business if you are studying in Arts and Sciences.
[back to top]
- You may justifiably desire to take courses that expose you to legal materials or enable you to see what the law is and how it operates. Such exposure provides valuable information for a choice of career. However, undergraduate law courses are of little, if any, consequence in the law school admission process and should not be viewed as preparation for post-graduate study of law.
Applying to Law School
Developing a strong law school application begins as early as your freshman and sophomore year by earning strong grades, refining your writing skills, getting involved on campus, participating in meaningful volunteer work, and getting to know your professors. These qualities, along with a strong LSAT score and personal statement, will make for a highly competitive law school application.
When should I apply to law school?
What is the LSAT?
- It is advisable to apply to law schools as early as possible in the application cycle. While most law schools would ideally like application files complete and ready for consideration by December 1st of the year prior to the anticipated entry date, certain early decision and early action deadlines may be in October or November, depending on the law school.
What is the format of the LSAT?
- The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day standardized test required for admission to Law School Admission Council (LSAC)-member schools, most Canadian law schools, and many non-American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools. It provides standard measures of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants.
- The test consists of five 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions, in three different item types. The item types include reading comprehension questions, analytical reasoning questions, and logical reasoning questions. Four of the five sections contribute to the test taker’s score. The unscored section, commonly referred to as the variable section, typically is used to pretest new test questions or to preequate new test forms. The placement of this section will vary. A 35-minute writing sample is administered at the end of the test. The LSAC does not score the writing sample, but copies of the writing sample are sent to all law schools to which you apply.
When should I take the LSAT?
- The LSAT is reported on a scale ranging from 120 to 180.
How many times can I take the LSAT?
- The test is administered four times (June, October, December, February) a year at hundreds of locations around the world. Many law schools require that the LSAT be taken by December at the latest for admission the following fall. As your sophomore year winds down, you should begin to think about which LSAT test date will make the most sense for you. In making this decision, you should consider summer plans, study abroad opportunities, and other long-term commitments. Taking the test no later than October of your senior year is often advised, though you may find yourself taking the test as early as October of your junior year. An LSAT score remains valid for three years after taking the test, so you do not necessarily have to take the LSAT and apply to law school concurrently.
How can I prepare for the LSAT?
- Do not take the test until you are prepared. You should plan to take the LSAT only once. If you take the test more than once, all scores are reported. Since some law schools average the scores, and others deduct points from the second score if it is higher, it is in your best interest to take the LSAT one time and give it your very best effort. Only if you perform poorly should you then consider taking the exam again.
- There are a variety of preparation alternatives available, and while the pre-law advisor does not endorse any particular method or materials, we do believe that significant preparation for the LSAT is advisable and beneficial. Some of the currently available alternatives are:
What about letters of recommendation?
- The sample LSAT included in the Law Services Information Book
- Official LSAT PrepTests available from Law Services, which are previously administered tests
- The Official LSAT PrepKit, which is an interactive workbook package available from Law Services
- Commercial preparation books available at your local bookstore
- Commercial preparation courses
- The people you ask to write recommendations for you should be people who know you best in terms of your academic experiences, motivation, and personal growth and maturity. Letters of recommendation can be useless, or they can be valuable. If they are to be valuable, they must include specific information about you which is probably not going to be communicated in any other form.
- If you are approaching a professor, you should hope that he/she will be able to say something about your unique qualities as a student in his/her case, whether you were an active participant, whether you showed more than a casual approach to the academic material. People who worked with you in activities outside the classroom should be able to say whether you were an active leader or were involved in name only. Employers should be able to comment on your maturity, enthusiasm, and motivation in relation to your work, and perhaps how this relates to your interest in law school. All of these kinds of recommendations are best illustrated by specific examples.
- The point is that the people who will write references for you know what should be included. What becomes necessary now is for you to examine your relationship to faculty members, administrators, and others in terms of these criteria as you decide which individuals you will ask to write recommendations for you.
What about a personal statement?
- Most law schools ask for two recommendations. Two strong academic letters from people who recognize your strengths and understand your goals are the most effective. Recommendations that include information and perspectives not included elsewhere in your application are particularly valuable. Make an appointment to meet with your recommenders to talk about their letter. Bring copies of your transcript, resume, and work that you have done in their classes. Let them know why you are asking them to write for you and review the points you would like them to cover.
- Your essay should be a positive image of who you are. It should be interesting, taking the place of an interview. In clear, concise language, on about two pages, relate what you have learned from your experiences and what you are motivated to do next. Any low grades or scores should be explained in a separate letter. If there are specific programs or reasons why you chose a school, include them in your essay. It will take several drafts to complete. Show your essay to your friends, professors, and advisors to see if you are conveying the impression you want to make.
Where can I obtain information about specific law schools?
- A resume should be included in addition to an official application. It does not take the place of the application form. Be sure to complete all sections of the application for each law school. The resume is an opportunity to present your experience with the detail and emphasis you want. Include a section on related coursework and research papers. If necessary, you can include a second page as long as the information is relevant to an effective application.
How do I decide which law school to go to?
- The Official Guide of U.S. Law Schools is an excellent source of information about ABA-approved law schools and their admissions procedures. The Official Guide is an annual publication available from Law Services which provides valuable information on how to prepare and apply to law schools in general and includes two-page summaries of each law school’s program and facilities. A copy of The Official Guide is available in the Pre-Law Office (Keating 207), along with recent catalogues from over 100 U.S. law schools.
- You want to get into a school that is best for you and that will prepare you for your ideal career after you graduate.
- While it is a good strategy to have one or two “reach schools” and one or two “safety schools”, focus on the range of schools where your GPA and LSAT gives you at least a fifty-fifty chance of admission. These are the schools where your essay, resume, and recommendations will make the difference.
- The reputation of the school and the job placement of the graduates are more important than any published ranking. Ask for placement information about graduates with similar backgrounds as yours and career fields that interest you. Ask where their graduates work geographically.
- Check for special programs, summer clerkships, and law clinics offered through the school for opportunities to gain experience. Look at the requirements to write for a law review. Consider schools where you can take electives in other graduate programs such as business or social work. Use the NAPLA/SAPLA Book of Law School Lists to check for joint degrees and specific academic programs.
What if I decide not to pursue law school immediately after graduation from Fordham?
- The size of the school and the number of alumni actively involved with the school matter. Class size, campus environment, and location matter. Visit the schools you are finally considering if possible. You will be living and studying at that school for three years. While your work will speak for itself over time, when you apply for jobs, you will be from that school. Be sure each school you choose is a place you want to attend and plan to stay at the school you enter.
[back to top]
- You should still establish a complete file with the Career Planning and Placement Office even if you do not plan to attend law school until a year or longer after graduation from Fordham. Your file with the Committee remains active for ten years and an established file makes it convenient to obtain letters of recommendation later since you need only contact the pre-law advisor.